Laura Baxter is our first guest writer on the blog since our relaunch. Laura is the COO at The Special Olympics Great Britain an organisation that celebrates both children and adults with intellectual disabilities. For this blog she has written about ‘Emotional Intelligence’ in the work place and how emotions are often blamed for women’s inability to work in leadership roles.

In her own role, Laura works with the CEO on the development of the Strategic Plan for 2021-2024 and the ten-year framework for success, Laura also leads the development of infrastructure and networks to set up a platform for growth and increased quality opportunities. 

We are living in a time where it is perceived to be a modern equitable society.  There are more platforms and opportunities than ever before to change society from a perceived modern outlook to a realistic modern outlook but why do we feel that for women it’s taking that little bit longer to make headway?

As women and as leaders is it acceptable to carry on as is or do we #ChoosetoChallenge the current way of the world? 

Society suggests that showing, feeling or talking about emotions is a negative thing.  It can be seen as a weakness in all of us, regardless of gender.  In the context of women not being suitable for Senior Leadership roles, emotions are often used as an excuse for women not being as successful in the working environment. We can look at emotions in a completely different light if we want to rather than just resign ourselves to the fact that demonstrating frustration, anger or sadness or any other negative facing emotion is deemed weak. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to be emotionally aware and allow emotions to be harnessed as well as managed.

I have been involved in various work environments over the years, in a variety of different roles. There has always been high levels of knowledge and role orientated training on show.  The one thing that has been intermittent at a high strategic level is Emotional Intelligence. 

If we rewind back to 20 years ago when my coaching journey began, I was surrounded by fast paced men, who were striving to be at the forefront of the coaching game by projecting their perceived knowledge on to anyone, regardless whether they wanted to listen or not. I am a people orientated person, but I was faced with an industry that was less about the people and more about the performance through knowledge. I’ve now come to see the industry is about connecting with people, building relationships and understanding the person to unlock their potential.

We know that in the sport and charity sector it is very rare to have female leaders within Senior Leadership positions never mind a full team.  At Special Olympics GB we have a Senior Leadership team which is made up of five key roles, all of which are occupied by women.  Throughout my career I have been involved in a few different compositions of Senior Leadership and I have to say, the environment that this Senior Leadership Team along with the support of the full team and Board is creating is something very special and it feels very strong.  I suppose that’s a bold statement but there are reasons behind that feeling.

The modern-day workplace is complex when we take into account gender, generation, culture and social upbringing. I don’t feel that it is enough for someone to just have the subject matter expertise and to just be able to be a leader.  The workplace of the modern day calls for a unified, understanding, empowering and collaborative approach that involves multi directional leading through relationship.  The emotional intelligence that women in our SLT bring is a real asset and results in a high level of productivity.

A working environment is all about balance taking into account skill set, personalities and working styles just to name a few. Each member of the SLT brings something different to the table but the one thing that is consistent throughout is Emotional Intelligence.  Each of us has a different level of Emotional Intelligence and is stronger in different areas of it.  There are five areas of Emotional Intelligence that the team as a collective demonstrate – interpersonal skills, self-awareness, self-management, inspiration and motivation and empathy.  In the same way that it is important to have gender, skillset, personality and working style balance, there has to be a balance of Emotional Intelligence for it to work as a collective.

I suppose that there will be assumptions that bringing together five women would bring clashes of personalities, gossiping, sitting around talking about fashion and our feelings.  On the contrary……. Success is derived from the fact that all of us have varying levels of empathy and a degree of emotional awareness that allows nurturing and the ability to harness one’s emotions as well as those around them. We can read situations very quickly or are able to pre-empt people’s reactions or feelings based on knowing each personality. 

Personal awareness is a huge factor of how we operate. We understand our own strengths and limitations. We operate from competence and knowing when to rely on someone else within the team. With this level of personal awareness, combined with empathy and emotional intelligence it helps us to logically handle change, work well in a team, and develop relationships. We ask questions to find out more and we listen intently to others to really understand situations.  This builds us a picture of the who or the what so that we can navigate effectively.

Over the years, I have worked with and currently work with some incredible men who also possess emotional intelligence. The working dynamic is more of a personable environment rather than a transactional one of task, action, and outcome.  It is important to look at what men bring to the table in a working context. In my experience, my male colleagues have often brought decisive decision-making qualities, level-headed and logical approaches and analytical thought processes.

With all that being said, this doesn’t suggest that women are the prime demonstrators of emotional intelligence and that it’s a rally cry for female only work environments. This demonstrates that emotional awareness, management and intelligence can add value to a workplace and that both men and women should #ChoosetoChallenge the perception that women are too emotional for decision making leadership roles.  Having a high level of Emotional Intelligence encourages others within teams to engage in softer skill development and provides a safe space for them to do so.

My final thought is derived from another aspect of my life which is being a mum…..I encourage my daughter to be empathetic and to express her emotions regardless of what the emotion is.  We talk about those feelings and manage them.  As women how do we go from the point of social acceptance to demonstrate empathy and express emotions at a young age to keeping them under wraps in a work environment?